[Editor’s Note:  The following article was published in 1982.  At that time the placement of Cirrhopetalum and Bulbophyllum had not been resolved.  At present, 2011, the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (WCSPF) considers the two to be synonymous with Bulbophyllum having priority.  Rather than edit this document, resulting in major changes to the body of the work, the author’s nomenclature has been retained with the appropriate Bulbophyllum names inserted in brackets.  Please consult the WCSPF for the most up-to-date nomenclature.]


Noteworthy Bulbophyllums Part II


WHERE Part I1 dealt with Bulbophyllum species and hybrids that were boldly colored and extravagantly shaped, the subjects of Parts II-III are a very different lot indeed. Four general sorts of flowers will be the topic of this discussion — those that very strongly resemble daisies; a second group of umbellate species that look more like conventional bulbophyllums; a pair of plants that much resemble living dust mops; and finally, a collection of densely-flowered types that bear some similarity to pine cones. As before, there are at least two levels of appreciation involved with these species and hybrids — the general first impres¬sion of the overall flower clusters, and another very different set of pleasures when the individual flowers are examined very closely. I shall try to guide you through both levels in the next few pages.

Bulbophyllum flabellum-veneris 'Oscar's Gift', HCC/AOS grown by Barbara Pierrou. Photograph by Ramon De Los Santos.

There are more species in the sections represented here than there were in Part I, but again we find that there have been few awards. Ten of the plants I will discuss have received awards — eighteen awards in all — but only one species has ever been granted a flower quality award. The fourteen Certificates of Cultural Merit are a testimonial to the fact that these species make splendid specimen plants when well treated. The Certificates of Botanical Merit and Certificates of Botanical Recogni¬tion were undoubtedly welcomed by their owners, but I again suspect that the somewhat bizarre shapes and growth habits of these lovely little plants have militated against their success when they were shown for judging.

I pointed out in Part I that there were few hybrids among the cirrhopetalums and bulbophyllums. All but one of those were discussed in that paper, and the one remaining hybrid will be detailed below. I must again state that I am surprised that there are not more hybrids among these showy plants, especially in the case of the species that look like small daisies. Their rampant growth habit, tendency towards long, blooming periods and bright colors would seem to make them very desirable, especially in this era of miniaturization.

The plants discussed here grow much the same as the species mentioned in Part I. Most orchid growers will probably grow them with success on slabs — cork, tree fern, oak bark— but the plants will grow in pots, if they must. Just remember that the fine roots tend to dry out easily, and most species will strongly resent this. Their resentment will show itself in small numbers of new growths and few, if any flowers. One possible exception to this comment may be seen in our plant of Cirrhopetalum [Bulbophyllum] medusae. This clone has bailed out of its container and is now happily growing along the outside surface of a bare clay pot with no medium in contact with the roots. It hangs in one of the drier parts of the greenhouse but seems to get along very well, regularly rewarding us with its preposterous flowers.

Bulbophyllum flabellum-veneris 'Harford', CCM/AOS grown by The Little Greenhouse. Photograph from the AOS archives.

Let us first look at the most commonly seen and most generally enjoyed sub-grouping — the daisy-shaped species. Most representative of this type, and more commonly grown than many I might have chosen, is Cirrhopetalum [Bulbophyllum] flabellum-veneris (Ed: note that this species is very often marketed under the incorrect name makoyanum, a very different species altogether as well as the hybrid name Daisy Chain). This plant very closely mimics a flower of the plant family Compositae, the family of daisies and sunflowers, but each petal of the orchid "daisy" is of course a complete and individual flower in its own right. Cirrhopetalum flabellum-veneris (lepidum) is a small plant with creeping rhizomes with closely spaced and upright leaves topping small, egg-shaped pseudobulbs. This is one of the species that will more willingly stay in a pot, as the short distance between pseudobulbs encourages compact growth habits.

The inflorescence is an umbel atop a slender, wiry, purple stalk. The inflorescences arise from beneath a bract that embraces the base of the pseudobulb and are long enough to carry the flower cluster well above the leaves enhancing the daisy-like effect even further. Cirrhopetalum flabellum-veneris is in flower through much of the spring and summer.

When the flower cluster is viewed from above (see illustration), the Compositae flower effect is very striking, as the dorsal sepal, petals, labellum and column are more darkly colored than the rest of the flower, giving the impression of the darker center of a pale sunflower. Focusing in on the smaller floral parts, we can see the dorsal sepal has a broadly ovate to fatly lanceolate outline, with a heavy fringe of filamentous hairs and a distal tip that is drawn out to a slender strand. The dorsal sepal is cupped forward to form a hood which partly conceals the column.

The petals are generally similar in form, though they are much more slender. Both petals are directed forward to a point somewhat in front of the tip of the labellum. Beneath the hooded dorsal sepal and the embrace of the petals lies the inconspicuous column, a structure with small side wings and a prominent anther cap, the whole structure extended upwards in an arc that parallels that of the dorsal sepal. The labellum is extended outwards as a strongly curved, narrow wedge, its tip pointed downwards and backwards. As is usual in cirrhopetalums, the labellum is highly mobile and is in constant bobbing motion.

The bulk of the flower is contained in the paired and fused lateral sepals. These structures extend outwards from the spike axis to define a flat plane, the paired tips either slightly or not at all separated at their apices.

Coloration is somewhat variable, though less so than with many species in the genus. The dorsal sepal and petals are a pale, glossy yellow with just a hint of flesh tone in the petals, and a bit of red in the terminal filaments of the dorsal sepal. The column is similarly colored but with numerous, small, red dots over its surface. The labellum is truly tongue-shaped, with the central area colored a brownish yellow, while the margins are a darker tint, made even darker by a coating of very small, distinct, purple dots. The paired lateral sepals are basically a pale yellowish with a reddish flush near their proximal parts, this flush composed of many small, reddish dots.

Bulbophyllum picturatum 'Minnetonka', CBM/AOS grown by Robert Bryant. Photograph from the AOS archives.

As mentioned earlier, these plants can produce very fine specimen plants. This is well demonstrated by the clone Cirrhopetalum [Bulbophyllum] flabellum-veneris 'Harford', CCM/AOS (82 points) which carried nearly 450 flowers on 28 inflorescences when it received its award.

Cirrhopetalum picturatum is quite similar in many respects to Cirrhopetalum flabellum-veneris, but the coloration is very much different. The dorsal sepal and petals are either very dark purple with greenish markings or with a base color of green with a heavy purple overlay. Individual clones vary in their color emphases. The labellum is intensely dark, almost blood-red. The paired lateral sepals are a good bit less appealing than those described above, a dull yellowish green with an overlay of red-purple dots.

The dorsal sepal is more ovate or cordate in this species, while the petals are again more elongate and fringed. The fringe of the dorsal sepal is reduced to a single, elongate hair at the apex. Lateral sepals are a bit more separated in this species, though this is a variable character. The flowering season is mainly during the spring and summer. The species is found through Assam, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam (Seidenfaden, 1973).

The clone Cirrhopetalum picturatum 'Minnetonka' was granted a Certificate of Botanical Merit with twenty-one flowers on two inflorescences. I have already stated that the odd shape of these flowers can be confusing, and it is nice to see that judges are human, too. In the description of this clone in the AWARDS QUARTERLY, someone seems to have mistaken the lateral sepals for petals when they are describ¬ing the floral colors.

Bulbophyllum pulchrum 'Emly', CBR/AOS grown by Emly S. Siegerist. Photograph from the AOS archives.splash

Cirrhopetalum pulchrum [Ed - note that this is now considered to be synonymous with Bulbophyllum longiflorum - see below]  follows the general pattern described above, but the charm of this species lies in its coloration and the details of the smaller floral elements. The overall base color is very pale yellow or off-white, with an overlay of blotches and dots of clear strawberry-red, less densely spotted on the lateral sepals and very heavily covered on the dorsal sepal, petals and labellum.

The dorsal sepal is much like that of Cirrhopetalum picturatum — smooth-margined with a terminal filament. The labellum is very glossy and smooth. The obvious, distinguishing feature of the flower lies in its petals which extend outwards like the small, inviting paws of some fanciful animal. Their distal third is covered with tubercles and hairs, completing the illusion of small hands.

The column is pale pink with a white anther cap, the wings produced as slender structures with an obvious kink about halfway along their length. The flowering season is mainly in the summer, and the species is widespread throughout the southeast Asian island archipelagos.

Bulbophyllum longiflorum 'Windswept's Windmill' HCC/AOS grown by Edgar Stehli. Photograph by James A. Yamber.

Another species that is easily grown and flowered in our greenhouse is Cirrhopetalum longiflorum (much grown and sold under the names Cirrhopetalum thouarsii and sometimes as Cirrhopetalum umbellatum). As Cirrhopetalum thouarsii, it was the type species for the genus Cirrhopetalum. Unfortunately it had already been described earlier as Bulbophyllum longiflorum by Thouars himself. As I chose to follow several other authors and retain Cirrhopetalum as a valid genus, the name of this species must then be Cirrhopetalum longiflorum. The tangled tale of name changes and identity confusions is a long one, and it is related in great detail by Seidenfaden (1973).

The individual flowers are very much like those of Cirrhopetalum flabellum-veneris at first glance, although the color and floral carriage is distinctly different. The dorsal sepal, petals and labellum are much tinged and stained with red over a yellow-green base color. The lateral sepals are pale yellow to off-white, marked with rose bands along each of the fused sepals, the bands composed of many tiny dots. The lateral sepal coloration is further ordered so that there are nearly color-free, outer margins and a similarly uncolored band down the center where the two lateral sepal elements are fused together to make the broad skirt of the flower. This gives the impression of a pale flower with a pair of delicately tinted bands running longitudinally down the flower surface.

Bulbophyllum brienianum 'Lil', CBR/AOS grown by Henry J. Severin. Photograph from the AOS archives.

A variation on the general theme occurs in Cirrhopetalum brienianum. In this species, the flowers again radiate from the centrally located inflorescence axis, but the lateral sepals are much more slender than in the species already discussed. Therefore, the "daisy" impression is not really well developed. The dorsal sepal, petals and labellum are much like the previous species, but the lateral sepals strongly recurve, leaving the radiating flower cluster awkwardly open and gaping.

The dorsal sepal and petals are reddish-brown to brownish-purple with yellow or brown hairs along their margins, and the column is pale yellow marked with purple dots. The labellum is very dark purple, and the lateral sepals are a clear, pale yellow marked with stains of red or purple.
Though the flower shape of Cirrhopetalum brienianum is much different than that of the other species discussed so far in this paper, the plant growth and flowering habit are much the same. Flowers are produced during the late spring and summer months, and the species is found through Malaya, Borneo and Sumatra (Holttum, 1953).

Bulbophyllum graveolens 'Ramirez Golden Giant', HCC/AOS grown by Teresa Ramirez. Photograph by Mei-Ling Melendez.

The last species in this sub-grouping is Cirrhopetalum graveolens, sometimes sold and grown as Cirrhopetalum robustum. Though basically similar to the other species, the colors and flower shapes are quite contrasting in several ways.
The dorsal sepal is pointed, ligulate, strongly hooded, glossy and marked with bold green veins on a bright yellow base tint. The stance of the dorsal sepal is such that the column is nearly hidden. The petals are shaped much the same, though they extend straight forward alongside the column and labellum. They are a duskier brownish-yellow and are also marked with darker veins. The column is rather large and bears broad, lateral wings, the whole complex colored a bright, clear yellow which fades to white at the edges. The labellum displays a startlingly bright, watermelon-red color, nestled in among all the greens and yellows.

The lateral sepals of Cirrhopetalum graveolens are shaped much differently than in many species in this genus. Much flared and expanded beneath the column and labellum, they swing forward to unite in front of and to partly envelop the labellum. From this point forward, the lateral sepals are arranged so that they form a flattened, elliptical, sac-like organ. The overall effect is rather like a cartoon-character duck head, the fanciful effect enhanced further by the glossy surfaces, the bright colors already described, and the bold combination with the yellow lateral sepals.

The flower carriage is somewhat different than in the other species as well, for when the other species are well grown, they will generally make a somewhat circular inflorescence. Here the flowers are more nearly arranged in a fan-like habit, splaying outwards from just one side of the apex of the inflorescence. The flowers appear during a period from late spring to autumn, and Cirrhopetalum graveolens occurs naturally only in New Guinea (a nice illustration of the flowers appears in Millar, 1978).

Before leaving the many-flowered umbellate forms with elongate blossoms, I must refer to Cirrhopetalum medusae and Cirrhopetalum vaginatum. These have been very adequately and minutely described in the A.O.S. BULLETIN by Henry Teuscher (1970), and I will not waste valuable BULLETIN space by repeating his careful descriptions. A few remarks are in order, however, to assist the reader in appreciat ing the differences and similarities between these odd mop-like forms and the species described earlier.

Although the plant habit of these two species is very m ch like those of the species already mentioned, the blossoms seem at first to be entirely different. This impression is mainly due to the large number of flowers per inflorescence and their closely crowded condition. When a single flower is examined with care, the viewer will see the familiar pattern emerge.

Bulbophyllum medusae 'Sunset Valley Orchids', CCM/AOS grown by Fred Clarke, Susnet Valley Orchids. Photograph by Charles Rowden. splash

It is easy to see why Lindley called Cirrhopetalum medusae the "Medusa's Head Orchid". The tangle of sepals produced by the numerous flowers do bear some resemblance to a mass of snaky locks. The only parts of the flower that are obvious to the casual viewer are the sepals; the smaller parts are either obscure or invisible among the mass of long sepals.

In a detailed photograph of Cirrhopetalum medusae one must look very carefully to see the minute petals. Hardly longer than the labellum, nearly colorless, and almost transparent, they are hardly worthy of much attention. The column is likewise inconspicuous, its pale yellow form tucked away beneath the dorsal sepal. The only other obvious part of the flower is the yellow labellum.

The flower colors are noted variously as yellow, pale yellow, white, and white with reddish spots. Our clone obviously belongs to the latter category. At ordinary viewing distances, the dots are so small and few in number that they are not easily seen.

The detailed illustration clearly demonstrates the basic distinction between Cirrhopetalum medusae and Cirrhopetalum vaginatum. Though quite similar overall, Cirrhopetalum vaginatum has a finely fringed set of dorsal and lateral sepals. In Cirrhopetalum medusae, these elements are smoothly margined and all such hairs are absent.  Though the fringe in Cirrhopetalum vaginatum is rather short, it can clearly be seen with the naked eye. In addition, the dorsal sepal of Cirrhopetalum vaginatum is rather short relative to the length of the lateral sepal pair, while in Cirrhopetalum medusae, the dorsal sepal is two-thirds to three-quarters the length of the lateral pair. The flowers are produced in the winter months. Cirrhopetalum medusae ranges through Thailand, Malaya, Sumatra and Borneo (Hawkes, 1965).

Bulbophyllum vaginatum 'Evets', CBM/AOS grown by FL Stevenson. Photograph from the AOS archives.

Cirrhopetalum vaginatum is somewhat yellow in color. Some have called it beige; some state that it is very pale yellow. The labellum is bright orange. The flowering season is variable through summer to winter. The species is found in Borneo, Sumatra, Malaya, Java, Thailand and the Moluccas (Seidenfaden, 1973).

The accompanying illustrations of awarded plants show why these two have been popular species. The clone Cirrhopetalum vaginatum 'Evets' is beautifully symmetri cal, pleasantly colored and was heavily flowered when judged, with eighteen inflorescences and about two hundred and seventy flowers.

As impressive as that might seem, its cousin, Cirrhopetalum medusae 'Sunset Valley Orchids', puts it to shame. This marvelous clone had 96 inflorescences with approximately 3840 flowers at the time of showing. One can only speculate why such a plant only received 83 points for its C.C.M. award.

Part III of this series will deal with species whose flowers look much more like conventional bulbophyllums.

Hawkes. A.D. 1965. Encyclopaedia of cultivated orchids. Faber & Faber, Ltd. 602 pages.
Holttum, R.E. 1953. A revised flora of Malaya. Gov. Printing Office, Singapore. 759 pages.
Millar, A. 1978. Orchids of Papua-New Guinea. Australian Nat'l Univ. Press. 101 pages.
Seidenfaden, G. 1973. Notes on Cirrhopetalum Lindl. Dansk Bolanisk Arkiv 29(1): 1-260. 
Teuscher, H. 1970. Cirrhopetalum gracillimum, C. medusae and C. vaginatum. Amer. Orchid Soc. Bull. 39(9): 793-797.